Tooth Decay in Infants and Toddlers
One of the most concerning conditions we see as dentists are infants or toddlers that have developed tooth decay on several teeth. This is frequently called baby bottle tooth decay because it is most often caused by giving the child sugary liquids in a bottle or sippy cup, though this is not the only cause. Decay can develop rapidly and destroy the teeth before your child is even two! This can be quite concerning because treatment usually involves sedation in a hospital setting and expensive dental procedures. While sedation is very safe, it is naturally unnerving to have a child so small be put to sleep. It is also concerning as a dentist, because we know that the child is likely to have more dental problems in the future than they would have had otherwise. We have learned that it is far better to prevent these issues through parent education before the damage is done.
We encourage all parents to bring their child in when they have their first teeth coming in. We call this a "Happy Visit", because we are just helping the child feel comfortable in the dental office and do nothing that would create any discomfort. No x-rays are taken, no cleanings; just a quick look in the mouth and a visit with Mom or Dad to answer any questions about caring for their child's teeth. Then we discuss things to avoid that will cause premature decay- like placing juice or any sugary drink (sodas, energy drinks, sport drinks, sugar water- no matter how diluted, etc) in bottles or sippy cups.
It is ok for infants and toddlers to have juice at mealtimes, but the rule should be that the juice must be finished at the table or it is taken away. The toddler should not be allowed to walk around the house sipping on juice or anything else besides water. It is also best to not establish the habit of putting your infant or toddler to bed with a bottle- especially one with anything but plain water! Toddlers should transition from a sippy cup to a cup at age 3. Never dip pacifiers in sugar water! We also discourage giving sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, or high fructose drinks to infants and toddlers.
Formula and Breastfeeding
Formula and breastfeeding can also cause cavities!!! Moderation is the key here. If a child is allowed to walk around with a bottle of formula through out the day, or is put to bed with a bottle of formula, cavities can develop. Really, it is best to not create a dependency on a bottle in the crib to help the baby to go to sleep.
Though not as common, breastfeeding can also cause serious cases of infant or toddler decay. This is mostly found when the baby is allowed to feed through out the night at will. To prevent cavities, it is better to establish a feeding routine for your baby after the first few months, rather than feeding whenever the baby cries.
One thing to remember is that our children absorb habits like a sponge. If they are given frequent sodas and sweets at an early age, that is what they will want. We as parents can create dependencies that are extremely difficult to break. Ultimately, parents have the responsibility and ability to help their children develop healthy habits to prevent early dental decay.